Longtime London-based journalist Goldfarb presents a wide-ranging survey of Jewish self-empowerment since the French Revolution.
After their dispersion with the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Jews migrated across the globe, enduring enforced isolation and marginalization in the lands they inhabited. As a result, they kept their religion, dress and mores largely intact, and often did not speak the language of the host country. Goldfarb looks at the leap in Jewish assimilation and integration since the Jews were awarded “active” citizenship at the time of French Revolution. Under Napoleon, who further effected emancipation as his army made its way into Prussia, Poland and Russia, the Jews were nonetheless subjected to a series of “infamous decrees” that imposed religious restrictions, fees and even rules about choosing names. While traditionally Jews were relegated to trades of tinkering and money lending—they were also barred from owning property and entering academia—they were now allowed into fields such as medicine and the arts. Some became influential in defining a new Jewish identity, as evinced by the “Jewish salon” flourishing in Berlin in the 1790s. Goldfarb offers mini-biographies of many of the significant figures of the 18th and 19th centuries—including Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine, Gabriel Riesser, Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud—most of whom were writing in the face of fierce anti-Semitism breaking out in Germany, Russia and elsewhere. Some, like Moses Hess, became convinced that Jews could never safely live among Europeans, and Zionism took root. Goldfarb concludes with a consideration of the ramifications of growing anti-Semitism and the Dreyfus Affair.
A simple, accessible popular history.